‘It’s a matter of safety, dignity’
Kennesaw State University is backtracking on a plan to change its online class management system to allow students to list their preferred pronoun.
School President Sam Olens told Georgia Voice in February of his plans to implement the change – along with allowing students to list their preferred name – after complaints from the school’s transgender and gender nonconforming students.
“Several transgender students have told me that if fellow students call them by their given name instead of their chosen name, they get embarrassed and we don’t want that,” Olens said.
Olens then instructed the school’s chief information officer to get to work changing the school’s Desire 2 Learn (D2L) class management system to allow students to choose both their preferred name (by this past spring semester) and their preferred pronoun (by this fall semester), citing similar actions the University of Vermont took in 2015.
But in a recent interview with the AJC’s Jim Galloway, Olens said they changed their minds on the pronoun option, calling it “a suggestion” and adding that technology is one reason why they’re not going forward with it.
When contacted by Georgia Voice to confirm the school wasn’t going forward with the change, officials said, “We are committed to fully implementing preferred name and will not be moving forward with the pronoun option.”
When asked as to why, officials said, “[We] have nothing more to report.”
Georgia Voice reached out to multiple LGBT faculty members and members of Kennesaw Pride Alliance, the school’s LGBT student group, to comment on the school’s decision, but none would speak on the record. Kennesaw State University President Sam Olens announced a change to the school’s class management system in February, but is now backtracking. (File photo)
Tracee McDaniel, a transgender activist and founder of the Juxtaposed Center for Transformation, said it was “immeasurably important” for transgender and gender nonconforming students to make others aware of their preferred pronoun on college forms.
“It’s a matter of safety, dignity, life or death and being able to successfully graduate with a college degree,” she said. “It sounds to me that KSU was hoping to appease us by placing a Band-Aid on the problem they have with treating people with dignity and
Olens had been making some headway with the school’s LGBT students and faculty after a rough start when taking office.
The former Georgia attorney general defended the state in a lawsuit challenging its 2004 ban on same-sex marriage and last year joined 10 other states in suing the federal government, arguing it had no authority to direct the nation’s public school districts to permit students to use the restrooms that correspond with their gender identity.
The state Board of Regents approved Olens as KSU president last fall, leading to outcry and protests from many of the school’s LGBT students, faculty, staff and allies. When asked about criticism of his LGBT record, he repeatedly stated he was just doing his job as attorney general of the state and that that doesn’t necessarily reflect his personal views.
Olens started meeting with campus LGBT leadership to hear their concerns, getting mixed reviews in the process.
Nayasia Coleman, a KSU alumnus who serves as a staff member in GLBTIQ Student Programs and as co-chair of the Presidential Commission on GLBTIQ Initiatives, said Olens had been supportive and eager to be engaged with the campus community.
Aracely Garcia, a KSU student and president of the Kennesaw Pride Alliance, told Georgia Voice in February she was one of the students that Olens met with, but said he was condescending and recommended that he take part in safe space training offered through the school’s GLBTIQ Student Programs.
Neither Coleman or Garcia responded to requests for comment on the school deciding not to allow the pronoun option.
June 23, 2017